Sunday, April 25, 2010

We are what we know!

In today's blog I want to introduce you to some powerful and influential thinking tools, and then link and combine them to make what I think is a profound distinction that is probably one of the most fundamental understandings for enhancing life I know.

All knowing is doing
"All doing is knowing and
all knowing is doing"
 Humberto Maturana

According to Dr. Humberto Maturana, an influential Systems Theorist, Biologist and Philosopher, all true knowing involves action. You don’t really know something until you can use it. This is the difference between knowledge and information. Facts are merely data you have available and don’t translate into true knowing and skill until you can use them. The key to wisdom and knowing involves using your knowledge to create positive change in your world.

The importance of understanding that “all knowing is doing” is in ensuring you stay out of the trap of thinking that data and information equals knowledge. Knowledge involves integrated understanding about using data in ecological ways -- about intentions, actions and consequences of the data. Knowledge is powerful, but only when it involves successful doing. The saying “with a little bit of knowledge we’re dangerous” is a reflection on the difference between facts versus an integrated mastery of knowing.

To support happiness and meaning in your life, ensure you put knowledge into action. Apply your learnings to your life and the lives of others. Make a positive difference and integrate your experiences through self-reflection and a focus on feedback and choice.

We are what we do

"We are what we do"
Robert Ornstein

Dr. Robert Ornstein, a noted Psychologist and Neuro-Scientist, makes the point in his many pivotal books, that we become what we repeatedly do. Our personalities and identities are influenced by repeated behaviour and experience. The insight from Ornstein's work and research is that we are made up of a 'multi-mind' of relatively simple and autonomous processes -- a society of mind -- that is created and influenced by our actions and experiences in the world; by what we do. Our actions modify the neural networks of our brains and create lasting 'parts'.

According to Ornstein: "We think our conscious mind, 'the self', is in control, but in fact it is a small isolated part of the mind, sometimes called into play by consciousness, most often on the sidelines. We have many minds that shift into place, and 'we' are not the same person from moment to moment, not the same 'self' at all". Our self is in large measure generated by what we do and what we learn to do. The import of this deep insight is that we need to be careful what we do, since behaviour alters and influences the mind in lasting ways. We also need to learn to communicate and negotiate with the various parts of our multi-mind in order to guide and direct our lives. I'll blog more about this in coming entries.

Now lets combine and link these thinking tools

If it's true that 'we are what we do'  and 'all doing is knowing and all knowing is doing' then it is an obvious extension that:

"We are what we know"

Read that again... 'we are what we know!'. Surely this is a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), but let's examine this and it's import in detail, as it has deep links to the notion of Life Enhancing.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

We are what we know!

This statement claims that our identity, our sense of self, who we 'are' is entwined and determined in large measure by what we know. Our knowledge, learning, skills and processes of 'knowing' make us who we are. Our knowledge and knowing changes the structure of our brains and the connections in our neural patterning systems.

Extreme cases such as 'wild children' - feral children who have been brought up by wild animals, or who have been locked away with no human interaction for the first several years of their lives - show how crucial the early years of learning are on the formation of the human self.

According to Wikipedia: "Feral children lack the basic social skills which are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them."

The evidence shows that wild children are never able to be fully integrated into society or be taught and socialised to become 'normal'. As we grow up, in the normal social and cognitive world of our society, we learn what and how to act and operate. We learn norms of behaviour and appropriate responses. We learn myriads of skills that form our unconscious competencies. And we learn the stories and roles that define us.

At the heart of this, what makes us human are the underlying processes of languaging and learning - the embodiment and instantiation of knowledge and knowing and how we bring this forth in the world. As the field of NLP highlights, each of us operates, not off the world itself, but off a map or model of the world - a reality tunnel, that is a deleted, generalised and distorted representation of the world.

Through the active process of 'knowing' - exploring and expanding our models of the world - we come to 'be' more, we expand our identity and the scope of operation of our consciousness. We get more life and are able to do more enhanced living through increased knowing.

When looked at from this perspective, it's obvious that 'we are what we know' and therefore knowing is life enhancing. The more you learn and know, the more you can be and do in the world. Knowledge really is power.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Martin Luther King, Jr

Ignorance is NOT bliss, Ignorance is Dangerous

Let's for a moment look at the flip side of knowing -- ignorance, self-deception and stupidity. It might seem obvious, but ignorance and stupidity are dangerous. They can kill you. At the very least, they severely impact your success and happiness.

If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?

Ignorance is NOT bliss! Ignorance is risky and dangerous. Ignorance can kill you! Lack of knowledge, stupidity and deception of yourself and others are all life denying and serve to diminish meaning in your life.

Some of the dangers of ignorance are:
  • You can’t prepare
  • You can’t see what’s coming
  • It limits your choices and power
  • Amplifies consequences
  • Leads to more mistakes and greater costs
While most people would agree with this, nevertheless, the majority of people are largely ignorant of the most important things and processes in their life. They don’t know how their mind, brain and body works. They don’t know how they unconsciously generate their own reality and happiness. They don’t know the enemies to their success and happiness. They can’t even articulate their values and core beliefs, let alone improve and refine them for greater success in their life.

Such ignorance means they end up living average and unhappy lives. They make stupid mistakes that cost them peace of mind. They bounce from failure to failure in their relationships, finances, careers and health.

The outcome of this blog

This blog and the skills you’ll gain from following and reading it are designed to combat that ignorance. The outcome of this blog is to bring forth awareness, expansion of knowledge, and the development of new skills and mastery. Knowledge and choice provide power and control. By instilling in your unconscious mind a desire for learning and a passionate move away repulsion from ignorance and self-deception, you will make an incredible and life enhancing difference to your happiness, your life and the lives of those you care about.

Law of Requisite Knowing

Remember the ‘Law of Requisite Variety’ from previous blog entries? This is a mathematically provable theorem from Systems Theory that says that the element that has the most requisite variety or flexibility will be the controlling element of a system. This can be summarised as the thinking tool: Choice = Control. What this means is that if you want more control in life, you have to have more choice and flexibility.

There is a sister theorem to this known as the ‘Law of Requisite Knowledge’. This related theorem states that as the requisite variety and complexity increases in a system, you need more knowledge about which choices to use in order to control the system. What this is saying is that in any system, to gain more control you need both more knowledge and flexibility. You need the choice to act along with the knowledge and skill to act appropriately.

What these theories tell you is that knowledge and skill are incredibly important for control over your life and your environment. Learning and knowledge increase your power in life. Ignorance is dangerous and life denying. Wisdom and knowledge are the keys to creating life enhancing happiness, joy and meaning.

Thinking Tools – Requisite Knowing:

Knowledge + Choice = Control
We are what we know!

Knowledge Provides Choice and Power

In summary: To enhance your life, you need to fill yourself with a desire for knowledge, wanton curiosity about the world, and an ever increasing store of wisdom and skill. Knowledge brings freedom, choice and control. We are what we life enhancingly know!

So inspire yourself to learn and do more. Never stop learning! Read more books. Take up short courses. Become a voracious learner. Share your knowledge by teaching others. Write a blog. Research continuously for new and life enhancing knowledge and skills on the internet. Connect with other learners.

Make knowledge, learning, wisdom and understanding the highest values in your life, and they will enhance your life immeasurably.

Want to learn more, get a copy of my book: Avoiding the Enemies to HAPPINESS!

life enhancing great wishes,

Highly recommended books by Humberto Maturana:

Highly recommended books by Robert Ornstein:


  1. Grant, this is a very important post, one that everyone needs to read!

  2. Thanks Jean for your kind comment!

    Yes, I totally agree, this post has some really important and crucial distinctions in it. I don't think most people realise just how knowledge changes the knower. If they did, they wouldn't allow their minds to be filled with the violence, greed and rubbish that a diet of television and video provides.

    I hope that my post will remind people that knowledge is not value-free, and that all knowledge comes with an ecology that changes the world - both personal and the world at large. You are definitely what you know!

    Thanks again for the comment and feedback. I really appreciate it.

    smiles, Grant

  3. I am massively impressed by your thoughts on the various aspects of knowledge in your column "We are what we know!". Knowledge is simply the most important requirement for living a full life. Knowledge Provides Choice and Power, - and I would add freedom!. There is a connection here to your interview with Thomas Sullivan in Freedom - Part 2, April 3, 2010. He defines freedom as having choices. Best wishes, Jan Fredrik

  4. May I add one thing that I intended to include in my first comment. Fundamental, and utterly important to me, is to put knowledge into ACTION, as you point out. That is the difference between living fully (and life enhancingly) and just being or not living up to your potential, accepting unnecessary limitations. Thanks again. Jan Fredrik

  5. Hi Jan,

    Thank you for your positive and insightful comments. You are right there is a deep connection to the distinctions I've been sharing and Sully's heart-felt ideas on freedom.

    And I so, so agree with you about action being the difference between living fully versus accepting limitations. I'll blog soon about that very point, as it is a subtle but crucial one. Thanks for bringing it to the fore.

    best wishes, Grant


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